ATHENS — Three senior members of Greece’s governing SYRIZA party late May 19 urged the government to halt bailout repayments — and prepare the country for a possible euro exit.
The group of dissenters, headed by the party’s former chief economist John Milios, warned that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ four-month-old government was being pressured by rescue lenders into abandoning election promises and continuing with austerity measures.
“The government cannot be caught in a neoliberal trap,” Milios told a gathering of supporters. “This can only be broken if it is made clear that we intend to delay repayments. We cannot disappoint those who trusted us.”
It was strongest challenge posed to Tsipras since the charismatic 40-year-old left-wing politician won general elections in January.
Milios was joined by two party executive members, Sofia Papadogianni and Antonis Danavelos, who also backed a repayment freeze.
“We must not be afraid. We must prepare for an exit from the euro. They will not expel us but we must be prepared,” Papadogianni said to applause from the crowd, packing into a small conference room.
Tsipas’ government is struggling to agree on a list of reforms creditors have demanded in return for bailout money that Greece needs to avoid defaulting on debts due next month.
But he is facing pressure from within his party not to abandon election promises of ending austerity and demanding the cancellation of most of the bailout debt.
Late May 18, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said a deal could be reached with lenders within a week — a prediction that eased market anxiety.
Shares closed up 2.59 percent on the Athens Stock Exchange, while bond yields retreated from a May 19 spike, with the 2-year rate dropping by more than a percentage point to 23 percent.
In Berlin, the leaders of Germany and France said the talks need to accelerate and should produce an agreement by the end of May so that Greece can face its debts this summer.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande said at a joint press conference on May 19 that they were prepared to meet with Tsipras this week on the sidelines of an EU summit in Riga to try and work through issues face-to-face.
“We need to speed things up — Greece has financial needs so financial resources need to be found,” Hollande said.
Merkel added: “We are all very interested that there be a program by the end of May.”
AP writer Nicholas Paphitis in Athens and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed